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Adam Dunstan

Department of Anthropology

Adam has spent five years researching environmental issues facing the Diné (Navajo) and other groups in northern Arizona. He has documented indigenous resistance to development of sacred lands with the intention both of critiquing dominant non-indigenous constructions of nature and of influencing the ways in which federal land managers interact with indigenous peoples. Adam received bachelor’s degrees in environmental science and anthropology from Brigham Young University and a Master of Arts in cultural anthropology from the University at Buffalo. He is currently a PhD candidate in cultural anthropology. As a Public Humanities Fellow, Adam will be working with Native American communities in New York State on environmental issues threatening Native communities. A primary focus at present is in communicating with federal and state land agencies to facilitate their understanding of the impacts their decisions have on indigenous communities in New York.

Tonya Lewis

Department of Geography

Lewis Humanities Headshot

Project Title:  When State Environmental Justice Policies Fail: Returning to a  Grassroots Democracy

Most state environmental justice policies are premised on the doctrine of Equal Protection, thereby limiting environmental justice consideration to minority and/or low-income communities, without regard for environmental conditions. This approach is problematic as it neglects consideration for the distribution of environmental risk or overall environmental quality, thereby often failing to align policy benefits with communities exposed to toxic concentrations or environmental degradation. As a result, states are not effectively reducing environmental toxins or improving conditions in communities often politically and economically-disempowered to advocate for improvements. In this research, I evaluate the suitability of incorporating the practice of participatory budgeting as a means to addressing environmental justice concerns in Buffalo’s West-Side neighborhood. The process of participatory budgeting is a democratic one, whereby ordinary citizens are granted the power over the municipal budget for their community. The citizens effectively direct the process to identify, discuss, and prioritize spending projects by on a majority vote of their community. The concept of participatory budgeting has recently gained momentum in a number of cities neighborhoods, including Chicago, New York, and St. Louis. This process is potentially a good fit to Buffalo’s West-Side neighborhood as it is exposed to excessive environmental pollutants, has elevated asthma and cancer rates, high crime rates, and generally offers a reduced quality of life corresponding to existing environmental degradation. To evaluate the fit of this approach, this research outlines the typical process surrounding participatory budgeting at multiple scales (from municipalities to specific projects), the potential implications of the process, both positive and negative, for the community, and how the approach might be directly applied to Buffalo’s West-Side neighborhood. Specifically, I consider how the process might effectively address concentrations of environmental toxins, and, result generally in an overall improved environment and quality of life for neighborhood residents.

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